As a 33 year old Executive Director of a small Boston non profit organization, a proud Boston World Partnerships Connector, and aspiring entrepreneur, I was excited to be attending the 2011 MassTLC Unconference. The Unconference is an event that makes living in Boston rewarding, to be in a bubbling cauldron of energy and innovation. Personally, my attendance went beyond traditional business networking. I had recently learned I was strapped into a new entrepreneurial adventure of sorts: I was pregnant for the first time. Feeling like the head of a lean startup, I was jumping into a high stakes market with no experience except a great passion for the product I was creating.
Excited and embarrassed about my new swelling belly, I found it garnered sweet and happy comments. Yet, deep down I knew it also sparked questions. I was fresh enough into this to be able to remember the thoughts about the pregnant women and moms I met before being one; those past questions and judgments haunted me as I stepped into this new territory.
I sought out some of the women I could find in the male-dominated scene, hoping for answers to my fears. I introduced myself to a discussion group, stating that, as a pregnant woman with the dream of owning my own business, I wondered if my window of opportunity was closing in three months. I asked, “Is my life as a potential founder over when I give birth?” I was relieved at the collective shock over this question: the window was nowhere near closing.
Throughout the conference, I reached out to engaging women leaders for advice and ideas. One, Renee Lin, IT Project Manager, and Manager of Venture Café at Cambridge Innovation Center (CIC), I had met just a day before. When I first met Renee, I asked about life as a woman in the startup scene: she surprised me by mentioning her two young children. She confided in me, “I left my other full-time job to have more time to start my own business, but I’m finding it very difficult. All the spare time I created I seem to spend with my kids.” I proposed an idea: a co-working space especially for moms. Could we alternate wrangling kids and getting work done? Renee was on board.
As we concocted our plan, Josh Bob, founder of Textaurant (now Turnstar), joined our group. Ascertaining that he wouldn’t contribute much to a Mother/Founder discussion, he was quick with a contact. He signaled to another woman to join us. Detailed introductions became unnecessary when we realized she was none other than Laura Fitton, once dubbed queen of Twitter. She created oneforty.com when her two daughters were 2 and 3 and offered some secrets to balancing Founderhood and Motherhood. Her first key was a willing partner: without an equal share of responsibilities, balancing the two will become two full-time jobs for one. Laura also had some words of wisdom for all women entrepreneurs: “You get a lot more opportunities for mentoring because you stand out in the scene. Any entrepreneur focused on the obstacles is focused on the wrong thing. Every entrepreneur is disadvantaged and trying to do the impossible.”
Meeting these women at my first Unconference “with child” shifted my scope of vision for what I will accomplish in the next few years. Feeling a sense of community that sometimes is lacking in Boston, I was reminded once again why Boston is an ideal place for any entrepreneur in any stage of life. I left the event rubbing my belly, with a sense of expectation for giving birth to my son and, someday, my own company.
Lumina Gershfield is a Boston World Partnerships Connector and the former Executive Director of Future Boston Alliance. She is also a proud new mother.
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